3D printed firearm
A 3D printed firearm is a firearm that is primarily produced with a 3D printer. They can be classified by the type of 3D printers used: plastic (desktop fused filament fabrication), metal (industrial selective laser melting), or both. While plastic ones are usually used as improvised firearms that evade gun control, 3D-printed metal guns are more commonly thought as a way for legitimate gun manufacturers to exceed traditional design limitations.
Although it is possible to create fully-plastic guns, such firearms tend to be extremely short-lived. Instead, it is more practical to print a plastic frame and use metal in the action and the barrel. The metal parts can be self-made or bought in the form of a parts kit.[a]
A related issue is the production of 3D-printed parts for conventional firearms. Printed high-capacity magazines circumvent limits on assault weapons, sears weaken the control on fully automatic firearms, and pistol braces challenge the limit on short-barreled rifles.
In 2012, the U.S.-based team Defense Distributed disclosed plans to design a working plastic gun that could be downloaded and reproduced by anybody with a 3D printer. Defense Distributed has also designed a 3D printable AR-15 type rifle lower receiver (capable of lasting more than 650 rounds) and a variety of magazines. In May 2013, Defense Distributed completed design of the first working blueprint to produce a plastic gun with a 3D printer. The United States Department of State demanded removal of the instructions from the Defense Distributed (DEFCAD) website, deeming them a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. In 2015, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson sued the United States government on free speech grounds and in 2018 the Department of Justice settled, acknowledging Wilson's right to publish instructions for the production of 3D printed firearms.
The legal actions against Defense Distributed has inspired the creation of more decentralized 3D-printed firearm communities, including Deterrence Dispensed and FOSSCAD, in 2019. Participants of these internet-based communities remain anonymous, and are sometimes based in jurisdictions that ban custom gun production.
In 2013 a Texas company, Solid Concepts, demonstrated a 3D printed version of an M1911 pistol made of metal, using an industrial 3D printer. In 2014, a New Zealand company, Oceania Defence, demonstrated a 3D printed titanium suppressors that are 50% lighter than conventional ones.
The Grizzly is a 3D printed .22-caliber rifle created around August 2013. It was created using a Stratasys Dimension 1200es printer. It was created by a Canadian only known by the pseudonym "Matthew" who told The Verge that he was in his late 20s, and his main job was making tools for the construction industry. The original Grizzly fired a single shot before breaking. Grizzly 2.0 fired fourteen bullets before getting damaged due to the strain.
Effect on gun control
After Defense Distributed released their plans, questions were raised regarding the effects that 3D printing and widespread consumer-level CNC machining may have on gun control effectiveness.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center released a memo stating "Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns," and that "proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production. Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files."
Internationally, where gun controls are generally tighter than in the United States, some commentators have said the impact may be more strongly felt, as alternative firearms are not as easily obtainable. European officials have noted that producing a 3D printed gun would be illegal under their gun control laws, and that criminals have access to other sources of weapons, but noted that as the technology improved the risks of an effect would increase. Downloads of the plans from the UK, Germany, Spain, and Brazil were heavy.
Attempting to restrict the distribution over the Internet of gun plans has been likened to the futility of preventing the widespread distribution of DeCSS which enabled DVD ripping. After the US government had Defense Distributed take down the plans, they were still widely available via The Pirate Bay and other file sharing sites. Some US legislators have proposed regulations on 3D printers to prevent their use for printing guns. 3D printing advocates have suggested that such regulations would be futile, could cripple the 3D printing industry, and could infringe on free speech rights.
In Australia, the state law of New South Wales criminalizes the possession of the digital plans and files to 3D print firearms under Section 51F of the Firearms Act 1996. In one case in 2015, a loaded 3D printed firearm was found during a police raid on a meth lab.
In another case in February 2017, Sicen Sun was arrested on charges related to 3D printable guns. During trial in December 2017 he pleaded guilty to charges including possessing a digital blueprint for the manufacture of firearms, manufacturing a pistol without a licence permit, and possessing an unauthorised pistol. In a sentence hearing on August 6, 2018, he told the court he initially wanted to replicate a gun from the videogame Halo and when he started searching blueprints online he downloaded plans for other guns which looked "cool." Sun had previously posted an advertisement to the internet to sell one of his imitation weapons for "$1 million negotiable" on a Facebook buy, swap and sell group, which set off the investigation.
The Canadian Criminal Code makes it a crime for a person to manufacture (or offer to manufacture) any firearm or ammunition knowing that the person is not authorized to do so under Canadian laws or regulations. Authorizations to manufacture can be obtained, for example, as a capability attached to a firearms business license. The Canadian government moreover has stated that "regardless of manufacturing method, a business licence is required to produce a firearm". At least two separate cases during 2020 have led to charges for 3D printing of firearms.
The Halle synagogue shooting gained particular notoriety for the use of improvised firearms by the perpetrator. One of the firearms he brought along (though did not use) was a hybrid design where the lower receiver was 3D printed, and he also had 3D printed magazines. He also had manufactured several more 3D printed guns that were not brought along. This sparked questions over the legal status of such firearms, though the consensus in most parties represented in the Bundestag was that no additional legislation would be necessary, as the current German gun law explicitly prohibits the unlicensed manufacture of firearms regardless of method.
In Japan, in May 2014, Yoshitomo Imura was the first person to be arrested for possessing printed guns. Imura had five guns, two of which were capable of being fired, but had no ammunition. Imura had previously posted blueprints and video of his Zig zag revolvers to the Internet, which set off the investigation.
The Singaporean government passed a law in January 2021 that made it an offence for anyone in Singapore to possess a digital blueprint of a gun or gun part without a license under the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Act.
In the United Kingdom, the Firearms Act 1968 bans the manufacturing of guns and gun parts without government approval. Hence, 3D printed weapons are de facto banned because the law bans all manufacturing, regardless of method. However, the Home Office updated its Guide on Firearms Licensing Law to specifically mention the ban on 3D printed weapons. In 2013, a police raid on a Manchester gang resulted in seizures in what are believed to be 3D printed gun parts. The Greater Manchester police believe they found a trigger and a magazine along with a quantity of gunpowder.
In June 2019, Tendai Muswere, aged 26, became the first person in the United Kingdom charged with making a gun with a 3D printer. The firearm in question, which he claims was merely a movie-prop for a dystopian film he was working on, was found during a raid following claims he was growing and selling cannabis. Originally in October 2017, he claimed he was only printing gun-like models, however in February 2018, following another raid, it was found out his intentions were to make a working firearm based off his browser history and some working gun components found in his house along with homemade gunpowder.
Under the Undetectable Firearms Act any firearm that cannot be detected by a metal detector is illegal to manufacture, so legal designs for firearms such as the Liberator require a metal plate to be inserted into the printed body. The act had a sunset provision to expire December 9, 2013. Senator Charles Schumer proposed renewing the law, and expanding the type of guns that would be prohibited. Proposed renewals and expansions of the current Undetectable Firearms Act (H.R. 1474, S. 1149) include provisions to criminalize individual production of firearm receivers and magazines that do not include arbitrary amounts of metal, measures outside the scope of the original UFA and not extended to cover commercial manufacture.
On December 3, 2013, the United States House of Representatives passed the bill To extend the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 for 10 years (H.R. 3626; 113th Congress). The bill extended the Act, but did not change any of the law's provisions. The subject of 3D printed guns gained such attention that in 2014, Netflix included it in its documentary "Print the Legend", a film about the significance of 3D printing technology.
On August 27, 2018, a United States federal judge blocked the Defense Distributed and its founder, Cody Wilson, from posting 3D-printed gun blueprints online. Judge Lasnik first imposed a temporary restraining order on Wilson, but that was due to expire, so he mandated a preliminary injunction that blocks online distribution in the United States while the legal proceedings are ongoing.
In January 2020, the Trump Administration published a rule change which would remove 3D-printed gun blueprints from the munitions list and transfer administrative authority over them to the Commerce Department, however in March 2020, U.S. District Judge Jones blocked the rule change. In April 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling.
- 3D printing
- Defense Distributed
- Ghost gun
- Gun control
- Gun politics in the United States
- Improvised firearm
- List of 3D printed weapons and parts
- In the United States, the firearm's identity is defined by its receiver (frame). Just printing a frame creates a "firearm" in the legal definition.
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Defense Distributed has demonstrated its Liberator 3D printed gun successfully. The gun, however, has a limited lifespan, and it typically fails after eight to 10 shots.
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